So 2016 is over…many things happened, but how was my motorbike season? Well, it was a special one, maybe unique. Again, there was no big, adventurous trip. But there were many smaller trips and lots of rallies.
In early 2016, I announced the biggest motorbike project I ever have planned. I had convinced Gerhard, the IBA Germany’s president, to organise the Alpenbutt Rally in 2017 with me as the responsible rally master. It is supposed to be nothing less than the toughest long-distance motorbike rally ever organised in Europe.
Six days of almost constant riding is already a big challenge, but riding the six days entirely in the Alps opens a new dimension. I had planned to visit more than 400 possible locations in the Alps to check if they were suitable to be bonus point locations. In the end, it skipped about 80 places, but still more than 350 were left to be form part of the fiendish rally book that will be handed out to the participants. I had already done a lot of scouting trips in 2015, but 2016 saw again a lot of trips – finally I could visit Slovenia, covered most of Switzerland and did the Western Alps as well. I had seen a lot of the Alps in my life, but visiting many of these places was new to me and I made some great new discoveries.
All the hotels at the start, checkpoint and finish were booked when I finally announced the rally together with the publishing of the Alpenbutt website. Together with Florian, the IBA Germany’s web designer, we managed to establish a professionally looking page that should reflect the high expectations of this event. The response so far was overwhelming. I had arrangements for 50 participants, but in October I arranged to increase the capacities to 75 starters. By the end of the year, 60 participants have registered already and I think there are more to come.
There was only one purely „touristic trip“ this year: the trip with John on our old bikes (86’ XBR500 and 69’ Triumph Trident) to Russia. Actually, we lost one day due to a supposedly dead alternator of the XBR, so we had to skip the plan to go to Moscow.
At least we wanted to make use of our visa and see Kaliningrad and ride over the Curonian Spit. So we did and visited also Latvia and Lithuania and got really washed in a massive thunderstorm on the way back in Poland. It was a nice, very relaxing trip that proved that we can form a good team on a longer trip as well.
And then there were the rallies. In the end I participated in all European IBA rallies but one. I skipped only the Brit Butt Light Rally in 2016 because the burden with the scouting trips and the rallies was getting too high at a certain point. But nevertheless, I participated in five of them. In 2015, I had the crazy idea if it would be possible to win all the (big) rallies in Europe in one year. This seemed presumptuous – nobody had ever done this, it just seemed too difficult.
In May, I went to the Brit Butt Rally as defending champion – in 2015 I had won the BBR as the first non-British with a spectacular ride.
So this year everybody wanted to beat me. Although I didn’t find my way into the rally, I secured the first place narrowly with a high-risk last 30 minute finish. Title defended. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side.
The next rally was the Scandinavian Rally. I had some mixed feelings – my last participation in the annus horribilis 2014 brought me my last non-podium finish, but also changed things from then on.
It started and ended in Södertälje and led me through beautiful Southern Sweden. I had my first encounter with a moose at night – luckily I was going very slow so I could admire this massive animal without getting in danger. In the end it was again a very close shave for the first place – turning around to get back to a bonus point location to take a second photo WITH ME in the picture secured another narrow first place.
Then I skipped the Brit Butt Light, but already one week later I did the Magic 12 Rally leaving from home, starting in Brussels and finishing in Krefeld. The rally book was sent one week in advance so everybody had a lot of time to find his own personal route.
Mine started in Brussels early in the morning and led me through the Ardennes, Luxemburg, the Eifel, Düsseldorf and the lower Rhineland. At the rally finish, Gerhard had organised a big BBQ where we awaited the results. My mate John did his best to win his first rally in Germany, but my route gave me more points, so…another first place.
But the most important rally was still to come…unfinished business…in 2014, I dropped out of the five-day European Tour Rally in a virtual top position, so I was eager to do well in the six-day European Tour 2016. It started again in Stuttgart and had Brno in the Czech Republic as the checkpoint. I chose my route via Innsbruck, the Dolomites, Slovenia and Budapest, where I stayed in a hotel for a short night rest. The next day I crossed Slovakia, entered Poland for a short while and arrived at the checkpoint in time.
I knew that the crucial part was the second leg…I had intended to go around the Iberian peninsula, but the numbers in the rally book told me that the place to go was Ireland. So I set off the next morning, crossed the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and took the tunnel train to Folkestone. Not without a nerve-wrecking two-hour dramatic delay at the terminal in Calais. I crossed England as quickly as I could and took the night boat in Fishguard to Ireland. The next morning I started my adventurous day in Rosslare, went to Dublin at rush hour, passed Cork and Tralee, went to Limerick and Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.
Basically, I toured most of the island in one day and bagged almost all big points there. After a tough day, I decided to have a relaxed stay in Sligo as there was no need for a rush: I couldn’t get the early ferry to Scotland in Belfast anyway. I bagged some points in Northern Ireland in the morning and arrived in Cairnryan around noon. After a few stops around Newcastle and Middle England I boarded on the tunnel train and enjoyed the luxury staying in my own bed that night. The last morning I bagged some more points in Belgium, Luxemburg, Alsace and Germany before I headed aback to the rally hotel. All seemed lost again when the bike stopped some 20 miles before the finish, but luckily it was only some under-pressure in the fuel system. The toughest contenders John and Giel shared my fate of 2014: they dropped out of the rally in Denmark and France, respectively. But as I was the only one to choose the winning route to Ireland, no-one could beat me this time: with a tremendous 30 % lead in points I won the European Tour 2016.
As a last treat in 2016, I joined the short Iceni Rally in East Anglia in September. Instead taking the XBR500 this time, I rode the big Pan European, but as a handicap, I chose to take my mate Johannes as a pillion with me. With an estimated total curb weight of about 550 kg, this should be enough handicap for the small roads in East Anglia. When we the saw John’s rally bike, the Triumph Explorer, and not his clunker Trident at the start, we knew that he took it serious this time, no handicap from his side.
All right, best case scenario would be a podium finish. During the 8 hours of the rally I missed my little XBR when I had to manoeuvre this big battle ship called Honda Pan European over some single track farm roads. In the end, I changed my plan with a smart little move that was quite risky, but gave us 175 more points… enough to win the rally with a 80 points lead over John. Incredible, the first two-up victory in the history of the European IBA rallies!
I really felt sorry for John and the other riders at the end of this year…All these five rallies were won by the same guy! I know that this gets a little boring for the other contenders. During the European Tour I was already wondering if I should take a break from rallying, should I win the rally. The last two and a half years were an incredible achievement – bagging records one by one. Since June 2014, I have won all rallies but two (DNF in the European Tour 2014 with a crushed BMW gearbox; second place in the Brit Butt Light 2015). Winning the Brit Butt as first non-Brit and defending it; winning two rallies on a non-farkled Honda XBR500; winning the first rally with a pillion; having won all four 24 h German Butt/European Road Runner Rallies since 2005; and last but not least: having won all (regular) European IBA rallies at least once (German Butt, Brit Butt, European Tour, European Road Runner, Scandinavian Rally, Brit Butt Light, Magic12, Iceni Rally). There is only one record left that will not be broken: Rob Roalfe’s six consecutive wins of the Brit Butt Rally 2008 – 2013. So what is there still left to do? Shouldn’t this be the best moment to retire and let others have some part of the cake as well?
Yes, it would be the best moment. However, I like this sport too much to renounce it completely. But a break would be a good idea.
And here comes the outlook for 2017. As I see it now, there is little chance that I will participate in a European rally. The biggest thing will be the Alpenbutt Rally anyway where the best riders will fight for the crown of the best rally rider in the Alps. But as the rally master, I can’t participate. Oh, I forgot to mention that I never was beaten when a rally covered the Alps. So this will be a nice hand-over. I have put all my 30 years riding experience in the Alps in this rally, all I can recommend and show to others, this is my legacy to the rallying and motorbiking community. This is as good as it gets.
And then there will be the other big project in 2017: after the drop-out in 2013 and the cancellation in 2015, I want to participate again in the mother of all long distance motorcycle rallies, the Iron Butt Rally in the USA. I feel it is probably the best time to try it again, I have gained a lot of experience and I’m at the top of my rallying performance. The European Tour 2016 was a good test. Unlike 2013, I’m not overwhelmed by this enormous task anymore. There’s still a lot of respect, after all it is a hell of a rally, but I sense it is not as frightening anymore as in 2013 when I was struggling to become a finisher on a small Honda XBR500. At the time being, my bike is refurbished by Mart!n which should give me peace of mind that a technical breakdown will be as unlikely as possible.
There is a small possibility that I might use the Brit Butt 2017 as a shakedown rally before the big Ironbutt to test the bike with all its old and new farkles and upgrades…. But I think I will decide this late in spring.
So there will be a big change in 2017. The last years were marked by intense rallying, maybe it’s time for something else? We will see…